Friday, April 21, 2006

Anti-evolution whackos still linger

There are fewer anti-evolution letters-to-the-editor showing up in the York, Pennsylvania, papers now than there were in the period leading up to and including the trial. The York Daily Record and the York Dispatch have always printed the occasional anti-evolution Bible-thumper epistle, and we don't expect them to diminish to pre-Kitzmiller numbers. Today's Daily Record carried a letter that was short and stupid; here it is in its entirety:
A picture and subsequent article was recently printed regarding "the missing link." If you ask me, it looks an awful lot like a mud puppy. I've seen them up close, and it's a spitting resemblance. So I guess they better keep on looking.
Brandon Schuster
Too bad the paper has a 300-word limit, otherwise Mr. Schuster might have been able to provide a description of the skeletal morphology of the legs, or details of the bones of the skull. For some reason, I have the distinct feeling he has never seen the skeleton of a mud puppy.

I hope Mr. Schuster is not a hunter, or if he is, I hope he stays away from my neighborhood. I fear he may think some cat, dog, car, or child might bear a "spitting resemblance" to a deer.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Still more on Tiktaalik

While we're on the topic of the Tiktaalik transitional form fossil, I'd like to mention a post by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars that addresses more foolish Creationist comments, these by Casey Luskin, one of the fellahs at the Discomfiture Institute. Luskin's argument is absurd, misrepresents the science, and is self-contradictory. Ed critiques the commentary and notes the important distinction between the Bozos at the DI and real scientists:
But you see, this is where we come to a key difference between how actual scientists deal with the data and how ID advocates deal with the data: actual scientists will now continue to look for the evidence that fills in the details. And when they find another specimen that allows us to verify those details with greater specificity than we can now, the ID crowd will react to that one the same way they reacted to this one, by pretending that since we didn't have answers for every single specific question of how the transition took place before that point, we couldn't possibly have been able to understand that any transition took place at all.
Just ahead of this Ed mentions a couple examples of scientists using their understanding of evolution to describe some aspects of the fossil record that they predicted would be found:

What Luskin conveniently ignores is that the existence of this intermediate form was predicted by scientists based upon the evidence we already had showing the early and later stages of the transition. That prediction was, in essence, a test of the theory that amphibians evolved from lobe-finned fish. If that theory is true, given the fossil evidence we already had, then there should exist at least one species and probably more than one that showed a morphology intermediate between Panderichthys and the true tetrapods. Furthermore, it had to exist in rocks of a certain age (370 million years, give or take) and in a certain environment (shallow marine, particularly rivers). So they began to search where they predicted such a species would be found and, lo and behold, they found one.

And incidentally, the same thing happened in documenting the transition from land mammals to whales. Predictions were made on the nature, age and circumstances in which that transition took place - again, based on the evidence from the beginning and later stages of the transition that we already had - that narrowed it down to a specific type of sediments (shallow marine) in a specific geographic location (Pakistan and India) and of a specific age (50 million years old). And once again, the prediction was borne out. Both predictions are brilliantly documented in Carl Zimmer's book At the Water's Edge.

And some people would have us think that twits like Casey Luskin are modern day Galileos?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

One more point on Tiktaalik

The two writers mentioned in the previous post were anxious to pooh-pooh the existence of transitional species in the fossil record because such forms provide evidence of evolution. The Intelligent Design promoters at the Discombobultory Institute claimed (according to Newsweek) "Few leading [ID] researchers have argued against the existence of transitional forms." Well, that might be stretching the truth a little, but the point I wish to make here is with regard to the condition of overlapping ribs seen in the fossil. Here we see an important difference between real science and the public-relations machine of the DI: one member of the research team that discovered Tiktaalik had suggested, 35 years earlier, that such overlapping ribs would have been needed for support on land (this nugget was reported by Elizabeth Pennisi in a Science news item (7 April) citing the Nature reports that were published 6 April. Here we have yet another example of a prediction that has proven true--one aspect of real research, real science. Something the gang at the DI prefer not to do.

Get your money's worth of IDiocy

You have to wonder how popular can a website be, if its writers are a bunch of abysmally ignorant morons. I was led to a commentary by Ted Byfield posted at the WingnutDaily dated 15 April, that purported to rebut Darwinists. Why does this man get paid to write stupid things, when someone like Gerald Kornbau receives no pay for writing similar foolishness in a letter to the editor of the York Sunday News (dated 16 April)?

Byfield repeats the stale comparison of Galileo challenging the "assumptions of the 17th century papacy" and modern-day Intelligent Design Creationists challenging modern science. The response to this comparison is the same as it has always been--Galileo, one of the original experimentalists, was right; modern Intelligent Design Creationists, despite wishing to call themselves scientists, are wrong. They are not at all like Galileo, because they do no research and make no testable hypotheses.

Byfield had stated in an earlier commentary that "10 percent of scientists accept
intelligent design," and, in this follow-up column he reveals the "research" that led to that quantification--a two-year-old newspaper article that claimed 90 percent of National Academy of Science members considered themselves atheists; doing the math, and assuming that anyone who does not accept Intelligent Design Creationism is an atheist, Byfield obtained his meaningless number. Mr. Kornbau, in his letter to the editor, made essentially the same claim:
The real reason many scientists and other people cling to evolution is that they don't want to believe in a creator God.
but he was not paid for it. The basic assumption is foolish, but Byfield's pseudo-mathematical interpretation is far more inane.

Both writers also addressed the recent hot news item, the discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, a 375-million-year old fossil transitional between fish and amphibians. Byfield, in a comment of spectacular stupidity that clearly illustrates why he should avoid writing about evolution and other things he does not understand, says
Two readers called my attention to a discovery last week on an Arctic island of something which may be the fossil remains of the mysteriously missing "transitional species." Or then maybe it isn't transitional. Maybe it's a hitherto undetected species on its own.
Byfield failed to grasp the significance of Tiktaalik. He thought that this fossil may (but probably did not) represent the one and only transitional form in the fossil record; he supposes it might be a "species on its own," whatever that is
supposed to mean. Please explain to us, Mr. Byfield, what your understanding of a transitional species is, if not a "species on its own." He further displays his ignorance of the fossil record and what transitional species are by saying
If Darwin was right, and the change from one species to another through natural selection occurred constantly in millions of instances over millions of years, the the fossil record should be teaming with transitional species. It isn't.
Wrong again, Mr. Byfield! The fossil record and, in fact, the present biosphere, is chock full of transitional species. Byfield probably makes this error because he simply doesn't understand what transitional forms are, plus he very likely is insufficiently familiar with fossil and present-day biodiversity.

Kornbau (who must have written his letter days before it was printed), considers that Tiktaalik, with some fish-like features and some tetrapod-like features, shows "the diversity and creativity of God" because God re-used some features from other animals (which sounds to me like a lack of creativity). He argues that the transitional form does not provide support for evolution. Interestingly, he also makes the claim that
If evolution were true, as many claim that it is, millions of transitional forms should be scattered in places all over the Earth. The relatively small number of different "transition" fossils found shows the weakness of the theory. There are so few discoveries that scientists make a big deal over each discovery, and they try to use each as a proof for evolution.
Once again, the letter writer comes up with benighted claims, provided at no charge, very similar to those of the paid commentator.

Both writers are convinced that their pre-evidentiary assumption of Special Creation, which requires supernatural machinations, holds true and is worthy of presentation as "science." They present anti-evolution arguments based on factual errors and misrepresentation and conclude that since they don't believe the evidence for evolution, their Creationist view is therefore correct.

People who do not know the facts should not go ahead and spout ignorant untruths!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Both Maryland Intelligent Design Bills now dead

Yesterday (10 April) was the last day of the current session of the Maryland General Assembly. The second of two House bills regarding teaching Intelligent Design received an unfavorable report from the Ways and Means Committee, and therefore moved into oblivion. This bill had about a dozen cosponsors. It would have provided teachers with "Academic Freedom" to teach Creationism as if it were science, and present it in any class. The other bill, HB 1228, would have prohibited the requiring of ID being taught in science class, but would have allowed the same material, taught as if it were scientifically valid, to be taught in humanities or philosopy classes. Perhaps the House Ways and Means Committee heard of the case in California where Creationists tried to outflank the Constitution by teaching ID in a class labeled "philosophy"--the Committee gave that bill an unfavorable report earlier.